Updated:Something of a Froth over Heady Topper

Mr. Leven has responded by e-mail to this diary, and in all fairness, since he made the effort to reasonably explain the circumstances, I think his perspective should be available to our readers.  Please read it in the comments below.  

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We all love our Heady Topper some; but the wildly popular brew has outgrown the Alchemist’s Waterbury digs, forcing the brewer to stop offering on-site retail sales.

The new plan is to move the retail face of the Alchemist to Stowe, and locate it on property belonging to Stoweflake Resort and Spa, where craft beer devotees, from near and far, might gather to pick up a case or two of Heady Topper then wander over to a “visitors’ center.”  Presumably, that’s where they will buy branded novelties, tacky t-shirts and other specialty items you can’t possibly find anywhere else in Stowe.

‘Problem is, the same issue that ended retail sales at the Waterbury cannery, threatens to scotch the brewers’ permit application in Stowe.  That issue is traffic, which, I am told, is a sight to behold whenever the Alchemist opens its doors to retail buyers.

Tuesday, the Stowe Develpment Review Board met at a warned meeting to consider the proposal, and a number of citizens on both sides of the argument made time in their lives to attend the meeting and express their views.

Apparently, this demonstration of public interest was insufficient to persuade board chair Brian Leven to go ahead and conduct the hearing with just five of the seven DRB members present.

According to board chair Brian Leven, the board did not have suitable numbers to discuss the topic adequately. Only five of the seven board members attended Tuesday’s hearing, and Leven is likely to recuse himself from the discussion, since he is friends with the applicants, Alchemist owners John and Jen Kimmich.

When asked if the public could at least be permitted to discuss the plan, since they had gathered for that purpose, Leven decreed that they should submit their opinions in writing and the whole matter would be taken up at a later hearing when, presumably, a fuller number of board members could be present.

Now, four board members represent a quorum, and as such, are legally qualified to vote on any business before the DRB.   A quorum is a simple majority of the total number of board members.  It is the minimum number of members who must be present in order to conduct a vote.  

As anyone who has attended DRB meetings anywhere in the state can attest, it is not all that unusual, particularly in summer, to have one or more DRB members absent at any given meeting. That is precisely the reason for the quorum rule.

But, obviously, when an applicant may experience some opposition to his/her project, the odds of a favorable outcome improve considerably if the project is reviewed by all seven members.  Then if one, two or even three members aren’t sufficiently warm to the plan, it can still be passed by the other four.

Needless to say, public attendees at the warned meeting were quite unhappy that their open participation had been quashed; and one might wonder if the manner in which this meeting was conducted satisfied that portion of the open meeting law which reads:

At an open meeting, the public shall be given reasonable opportunity to be present, to be heard and to participate regarding matters considered by the public body during a meeting, subject to rules established by the chairperson. This does not apply to quasijudicial proceedings.

Then there is the spectre of conflict of interest to consider.  Mr. Leven is “likely to recuse himself from the discussion,” but that does not change the fact that his decision as chair to postpone the hearing until a larger number of representatives is present favors his friends the Kimmichs.

If members of the public, who were told to submit their comments in writing, choose instead to make an issue of the decision, it will, at the very least represent some embarassment for Mr. Leven, the City, and even the applicants.

Bad form, Mr. Leven.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

7 thoughts on “Updated:Something of a Froth over Heady Topper

  1. Hello Sue,

    I would like to set the record straight regarding your article “Something of a Froth over Heady Topper” because it seems that a number of things have either been omitted or misrepresented.  First of all, the Stowe Development Review Board, as do many development review boards, has a history of willingly granting a recess to an applicant who requests one.  One reason for which the board has routinely granted a recess is due to only four members being available to review an application.  This is a courtesy the board has extended to every applicant when board numbers are low regardless of how controversial the project is.  The applicants for the Alchemist brewery requested such a recess.

    The decision to grant the recess, like all board decisions, was one made by the board, in this case unanimously, not me as the chair.  The board could have taken testimony but was uncomfortable without first being presented the project by the applicant.  Moreover, the board is committed to a fair and consistent treatment of all applicants.

    Never during the meeting of Tuesday, June 3 did I “decree” anything.  I did instead clearly state that anyone who wishes to testify on the project would have the opportunity at the next meeting when the board calls the project up for review.  I also explained that those who are unable to attend the next meeting are welcome to submit their comments in writing.  The board has always taken written comments very seriously.

    Even though I personally plan on recusing myself from reviewing the project, as chair I am committed to allowing all interested parties the opportunity to present their concerns or support.  Once again, the decision to recess the project was the board’s not mine.  I did support that decision because I consider consistency and fairness to be good form and are essential to the effective functioning of the board.

    Sincerely,

    Brian Leven

    Stowe Development Review Board Chair

  2. Trifecta! Three of my favorite out-of-work pursuits and interests.

    According to the town of Stowe’s website:

    The Board meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month at 5 pm in the Akeley Memorial Building Memorial Hall.

    http://www.townofstowevt.org/b

    I suspect the meeting you’re referring to was held last Tuesday, June 3.

    Anyway, the Agenda for Stowe’s next DRB meeting is warned for Tuesday, June 17. That Agenda highlights that the project (#4956) contemplating the construction of a “Building for Beer Production and Retail Sales” was “recessed” at the meeting held on 6/3. That’s curious as “recessed” implies the public hearing was opened, which it should have been, as you note, but wasn’t due to the Board Chair’s decision not to open the hearing. The meeting appears to have been publicly warned, and those Board members present did meet Stowe’s Zoning Regulations definition of a quorum in “2.14 Public Hearings (2) Hearings (A)” –

    For the conduct of any hearing, and the taking of any action, a quorum shall be not less than four (4) of members of the DRB

    http://www.townofstowevt.org/i

    “Not less than four” is the standard set forth in the regulations “for the conduct of any hearing”. Board Chair Brian Levin’s contention that “the board did not have suitable numbers to discuss the topic adequately” is not supported by the regulations.  It’s simply his personal preference, or belief. I don’t believe it logically follows that “the fact that his decision as chair to postpone the hearing until a larger number of representatives is present, favors his friends the Kimmichs”. This especially in light of the fact that the two DRB members not present at the June 3 meeting are legally permitted by Stowe’s Zoning Regulations to “re-gain” their ability to participate in the decision of any hearing they’ve missed by listening to a recording or reading transcripts prior to joining future deliberations. From the Stowe zoning regulations, “2.14 Public Hearings (3) Hearings on the Record (H)” –

    Members of the DRB shall not participate in the decision unless they have heard all the testimony and reviewed all the evidence submitted in the hearing. This may include listening to a recording, or reading the transcripts of testimony they have missed, and reviewing all exhibits and other evidence prior to deliberation.

    Considering Stowe’s Zoning Regulations, I would think it would have been prudent to open,, and hold, the publicly warned meeting despite the potential that the Board Chair speculated he may recuse himself from deliberations simply because “he is friends with the applicants”. If that bar were used for recusal, then finding a quorum to contemplate development applications would be onerous.

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